Like many I'll admit to initial disappointment at Booker longlist omissions, it's only natural and happens every year, we were all rooting for our favourites and few of mine made the cut, but once I'd got over that it was onwards and upwards to unearth the gems.
After all, surely five people can't be wrong about all thirteen books?
Don't answer that.
Hilary Mantel declares of an earlier novel by Michelle de Kretser,
'The Hamilton Case - a mesmeric study of family, a scandal and a murder, Booker judges where were you?'
Clearly they've take note this time.The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser yet another book that made several of the speculative longlists and it's not difficult to see why when you read it. The language is rich and intense, concentrated writing distilled down to its purest form and a book that repays an odd form of slow, languid reading to fully appreciate writing that whilst not drawing attention to itself, often requires a second read to be sure that what you read really was as good as it first seemed.
Thinking about a reference as succinct as the
'dull child lightly spotted with malice'
and I knew that child instantly. Or
'A date over which so many Novembers had flowed without interruption had become an anniversary. Time was thickening around it. He thought of it waiting for him each year.'
and I sensed that feeling, clearly defined.
Layers of significance build and build and I was constantly in awe of Michelle de Kretser's style and skill, the very right words in exactly the right order. Even that point when you might expect a book to take a bit of a yawn as it rests and gathers itself to regroup for that push to the final page, well Michelle de Kretser just pulls out even more stops and stuns all over again, the book dazzled and sparkled for me from start to finish.
'Reality is an effect produced by the accrual of detail. a trickery...'
and Michelle de Kretser utilises her own observation well. A sense of time mediated through historical reference, glancing shots at an event, the Japanese invasion, the Coronation, all cleverly kept me in step with the timing in the early chapters until I was able to settle in.
The lost dog would seem to be the least of Tom Loxley's worries, except the search for the dog provides a lifeline, a central focal point for all the other losses going on in Tom's life as they surface.
Tom is writing a book on Henry James and credit is given at the end to Henry James, both overtly and obliquely so I suspect there may be much I have missed, but who exactly is the enigmatic artist Nelly Zhang previously Nelly Atwood (how to draw this reader's attention into a book, clever use of surname that ) with whom he finds himself inextricably infatuated. What did happen to her husband, how will all the other traumas in Tom's life pan out, the wife, the mother, the dog ?
The poor dog wandering around in the bush with a length of rope knotted firmly to its neck.
With a narrative that flows seamlessly back and forth between present and a past both recent and distant, Australia now and India then,
'the present makes use of what has gone before, feeding on it and transforming it, and rejecting what remains.'
The ongoing search for the dog becomes the pivotal point from which all else seems to radiate as the story slowly but cleverly takes shape. There are moments of stunningly precise and incisive insight into life that had never quite occurred to me before, an exceptional passage as Tom analyses his reaction to his mother's reversion to childhood in her old age.
More themes about life and love, memory and nostalgia , images and pictures, ageing and loss than it's possible to define here and a book that would certainly reward an even closer second reading.
Years ago, some say in the olden days, a Booker judge was heard to remark that reading one author's book had made him/her want to go out and read all the others, and I certainly now feel this about Michelle de Kretser.
A way to go yet but thus far The Lost Dog is a short list certainty here.